ONAMIA -- Winners of the See Mille Lacs in 2020 contest voiced a strong sense of optimism and ambitious visions for the region in 15 years, including an appreciation for diversity, enlightened environmental efforts and an expanded economy.
The top contest winner was Marcia Thurmer of Aitkin, who was recognized for her vision during a luncheon at the Grand Casino Mille Lacs Events & Convention Center. Runners-up were Valerie Watterson-Harrington of Onamia and Rebecca Imberi of Brainerd.
See Mille Lacs in 2020 was co-sponsored by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and the Mille Lacs Messenger. The contest encouraged area residents and employees to share their visions of how to make the Mille Lacs Lake area better, stronger and more prepared for the future.
All three winners voiced a belief that in 2020, the Mille Lacs region will have resolved challenges that have divided some residents from others.
"Beginning now is a time of healing and tentative reaching out," Imberi said in her essay.
Sounding a similar theme, Watterson-Harrington wrote, "I believe our main problem of division will be conquered and will be a thing of the past. Both natives and non-natives are prospering (in 2020 ) from the success of the vision of all."
Thurmer used the new regional wastewater treatment plant, a cooperative effort between the Mille Lacs Band and other local governments, as a jumping off point for her vision of a unified future.
"Intergovernmental projects like (the wastewater treatment plant) have been emulated around the lake, and fruited into joint powers efforts concerning land use, economic development proposals, even surface water regulation," she said. "Abundant fresh ideas from educated, interested citizens result in fair and egalitarian policy-making. The Mille Lacs area is a model for the best outcome of long-range planning and visioning."
The importance of Mille Lacs Lake and the region's environment -- both for their own sake and their role in the area's economic health -- was another topic the winners agreed upon.
"Integrity, the wholeness of ecosystems is widely valued, sought and supported," Thurmer wrote. "Around Mille Lacs (in 2020), this value underpins efforts to improve our social and economic conditions. Good eco-sense guides development of new businesses."
"New wild rice lots will be emerging, new families of birds will be flocking to Mille Lacs Lake," Imberi wrote. "There will be specific programs to assist in waste removal for ice fishers and hunters. ... I see the recycling program expanding, and a more communal sharing of property through donations to help reduce waste."
"The earth is happy that there is a concentrated effort to improve the quality of the land and lakes in the area," she said.
The writers also talked about economic strength and diversity.
"The local economy is ripe for growth ... strong, steady growth," Imberi wrote, envisioning more family-oriented entertainment in 2020, such as a water park, cinema, miniature golf course or bowling alley.
Watterson-Harrington, too, predicted a host of new entertainment options in the Mille Lacs of 2020, and also looked forward to Indians and non-Indians working together on business ventures ranging from clothing stores to health clubs to veterinary clinics.
Whatever new businesses are thriving in 2020, "a robust economy is still centered on rich natural and human resources," Thurmer wrote. "New industries that this generation (in 2020) fosters are decentralized, human in scale and humane in treatment of employees and customers."
And whatever else the future holds for Mille Lacs, Imberi believes residents will continue to love the area as they do today. "I've been happy to call the Mille Lacs area my home and I think in 2020 people will still be proud to call it their home."
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